What does 'globalisation' mean?
‘Globalisation’ is a term that has suddenly become very common. It refers above all to the rapid increase in economic activity that is taking place across national boundaries. It includes the way that goods, services and financial capital are produced, traded and moved around the whole world.
Globalisation has profound social and political, as well as economic, implications. It is stimulating a level of interdependence that goes far beyond the international trade and communication of the past. It is having an enormous impact on the lives of workers and their communities everywhere.
Is it a good or bad thing?
Globalisation could be beneficial. Trade has the potential to generate wealth, stimulate technological innovation that improves living standards, and bring ordinary people in distant parts of the globe closer together, increasing mutual understanding and spreading values of social justice.
But this is not what is happening. At a time of unprecedented wealth and technological capability for some, the majority of the world's population finds that things are getting worse. The free market model of globalisation that is being promoted is focussed on the needs of business, particularly large-scale multinational companies, not on the needs of ordinary people.
Workers everywhere are seeing an erosion of their job security, working conditions, and wages. Hard-won rights to organise trade unions and negotiate collectively with management are being undermined. Millions of workers, particularly in the developing countries and Eastern Europe, are experiencing greater poverty and hardship.
The globalisation we are experiencing is increasing the gap between rich and poor, both within and between countries. Ever larger numbers of the poor are having to leave their traditional homes and migrate to wealthier cities or countries in the hope of earning a livelihood.
Meanwhile very powerful media and entertainment corporations from the industrialised countries dominate and marginalise other cultures, languages, and ways of living and thinking. These trends encourage resentment and bear the seeds of conflict.
Who Are the Key Players driving Globalisation?
- Multinational Enterprises: otherwise known as ‘transnational corporations’, these are companies which run their business across national boundaries; they are the major beneficiaries of free trade.
- World Trade Organisation (WTO): this is the international body through which international trade agreements are negotiated and enforced; it champions the freeing up of trade from those government restrictions which are said to interfere with the activities of business.
- World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF): these international financial institutions provide loans and technical assistance to governments; they also champion policies of free trade and the privatisation of public services, often making these policies a condition for their loans.
- Governments: those from the industrialised countries dominate the international institutions and so have great influence over what kind of globalisation is promoted.
Today’s globalisation is sometimes portrayed as an inevitable, technologically-driven process that we must adapt to if we are to survive and prosper. But this is not true. It is being driven by a laborious process of international rule-making and enforcement by governments that support the needs of business above those of their own citizens. Meanwhile, the regulations that protect workers and their communities are being downgraded.
Little wonder that many ordinary people have become angry or cynical at governments and democratic political processes. This lack of legitimacy will only worsen until people’s social, developmental and environmental concerns are properly addressed.
All workers have rights
Today's globalisation is not providing the resources needed for living and working conditions to improve for the mass of the world's people. Rather, governments are all too often undermining workers' rights and conditions so that business can minimise its labour costs.
Yet all workers have rights, as has been repeatedly agreed by the same governments over the past half a century. Four decades after signing the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, governments at the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995 again committed themselves to:
"safeguarding and promoting respect for basic workers' rights, including the right to organise and bargain collectively; the prohibition of forced and child labour; equal remuneration for men and women for work of equal value, and non discrimination in employment."
International Labour Organisation
The body of the United Nations which oversees labour issues is the International Labour Organisation (ILO), based in Geneva, Switzerland. The ILO is the only international body that is tripartite, having representatives of governments, employers and workers. They come from 182 countries. At the ILO, the ICTU represents workers on the island of Ireland.
One of the ILO's most important functions is the development of international labour standards. The ILO agrees Conventions which aim to create binding obligations on governments, and Recommendations which give guidance to governments on policy, legislation and practice.
There are over 180 ILO Conventions and even more Recommendations. As well as basic trade union rights and freedom from harassment, coercion and discrimination, they cover many issues such as safe and healthy workplaces, hours of work, paid leave for agricultural workers, or contracts of employment for seafarers, etc.
Establishing standards is one thing. Making sure they are observed is quite another. The ILO examines how governments are putting the standards into practice through legislation and activities. It can shame governments in the eyes of the international community. In the end, though, the ILO can only persuade governments; it cannot force them.
The Fundamental Rights
In 1998, the ILO adopted the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This says that certain rights are so fundamental that they apply to all workers, irrespective of whether or not their governments have signed up to the relevant Conventions, and no matter how rich or poor their country is. They are called the 'core labour standards'. They are:
- The right to form trade unions ('freedom of association')
- The right to effective collective bargaining between workers and management
- Freedom from forced or compulsory labour
- An end to child labour
- Freedom from discrimination in the workplace.
All ILO member states are obliged to promote and realise these fundamental rights. It is clear, however, that many governments are ignoring their duties. They are instead undermining workers' fundamental rights in the interests of attracting investors in the global economy.
Core labour standards are basic human rights that help people break out of the poverty trap. They are the building blocks of democracy, and crucial to the empowerment of working people, especially the poor and marginalised.
Respect for the fundamental rights of people at work is essential if there is to be economic, social and political development for the whole world.
The right to form trade unions ('freedom of association') and to bargain collectively with employers are the fundamental rights of all people at work.
These rights are laid down in two Conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO):
- ILO Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, No.87 (1948) bans any act of discrimination against trade unions. It protects employers' and workers' organisations from mutual interference and promotes collective bargaining.
- ILO Convention on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, No.98 (1949) protects workers who exercise their right to organise.
Read more about Congress’ Global Solidarity Work: www.ictu.ie/globalsolidarity
Other important links:
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC): http://www.ituc-csi.org/
International Labour Organisation (ILO): http://www.ilo.org/global/lang--en/index.htm
Clean Clothes Campaign/Ireland : http://www.cleanclothescampaignireland.org/
Justice For Colombia: http://www.justiceforcolombia.org/